The State of Things: Towards a Political Economy of Artifice and Artefacts

Last updated, 4 Oct 2008
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Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy, University of Leicester
29/04/2009 to 01/05/2009

In a more wistful moment, Marx asked what commodities would say if they could speak. Surely, if he listened long enough, they would have announced the various traumas of their exploitatative and violent birthing to him. Eventually, one imagines, they would have described the nature of the various forms of labour necessary for their production as the apparitionally elementary components of the capitalist mode of production.

So would the commodity’s autobiography be the same now, one wonders.

Today we live in a much different state of things: the artifice of artefacts is evident all around us. A parliament of communication technologies, from RFIDS to bluetooth devices, constantly exchange information and network all around and through us. Wireless networks of communication, control, and cooperation proliferate in mysterious ways, all speaking an infra-language of organization, inscribing new techniques of governance. But these networks have become all the more indiscernible by the open secret of their appearance.

Developments in Actor Network Theory and autonomist technoscience studies have made a turn towards the economic. What does this bode for the field of organization studies? Will these two movements join in an encompassing view of posthuman economic institutions? Will ANT provide the definitive answer to the interrelation of economics, politics and objects? These two yet separated strands of economy and politics might provide a good opportunity to revisit the problematics of objects and their commodification, combining them with more traditional approaches.

This conference therefore proposes a return to the study of objects and artifacts and the various logics and dispositifs that underlie the formation of their fields of power, while combining them with modern and more classical forms of political economy.